Elite police commandos were on guard outside Sri Lanka’s supreme court on Tuesday (13) as judges deliberated whether a shock call for early elections was constitutional, more than two weeks into the island nation’s political crisis.
President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday (9) dissolved parliament and called snap elections for January 5, two weeks after firing the prime minister.
The moves sparked international alarm and supporters of the sacked premier, as well as a member of the election commission on Monday (12), filed legal challenges.
“We have several units of the STF (Special Task Force) reinforcing hundreds of constables,” a senior police official told AFP. “We fear clashes between supporters of rival parties.”
On Monday dozens of people booed a legislator loyal to Sirisena as he arrived at the court complex, prompting police to declare the site out of bounds on Tuesday.
Sirisena’s opponents want the three-judge bench headed by chief justice Nalin Perera to declare the president’s actions null and void.
But the court was set initially to decide whether it will proceed with the case.
If it decides to do so, it could order a suspension of preparations for the snap elections.
It was unclear when the judges would hand down a ruling, or what their decision might be.
Sirisena summarily dismissed prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse in his place on October 26.
Both men are claiming the premiership, and Wickremesinghe is holed up in the prime minister’s official residence and refusing to leave.
The United States has led a chorus of international concern over events in the strategically important Indian Ocean island nation of 21 million people.
Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), the main opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the leftist People’s Liberation Front (JVP), who together enjoy an absolute majority in parliament, want the assembly restored.
Legal experts say the dissolved parliament would have to be restored if the Supreme Court holds with the petitioners.
If not, the January 5 snap election called by Sirisena will have to go ahead.
Independent election monitors have also questioned the legality of the poll that would come nearly two years ahead of schedule.
On Sunday (11) night, speaker Karu Jayasuriya urged civil servants to defy Sirisena’s “illegal orders”.
But later Sirisena defended his actions, saying violence among rival MPs could have led to “civil unrest” across Sri Lanka if the legislature had met as scheduled this week.
Wickremesinghe rejected this outright, saying Sirisena had “brushed aside the constitution” in sacking the legislature.